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HIV Plan fails sex workers Featured

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Thursday, 01 December 2011 15:18
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The last-minute removal of all specific commitments on human rights from South Africa’s new National Strategic Plan on HIV, STI’s and TB, the Government has reversed our public health response to issues around sex workers. In the face of findings that one in five new HIV infections in South Africa is sex work-related – a fact fuelled by police abuse and health services stigma towards sex workers – Government has chosen to remove from the Plan a five year commitment to progress the decriminalisation of sex work. See attached for details of the changes.

Mickey Meji, leader of the SANAC sex work sector, said today:

“I have attended five SANAC meetings in the last 3 months to advise on how to improve the HIV response to sex work. My consistent advice was that while sex workers, their clients and partners remain criminals, no intervention would be effective. Decriminalisation was the key action needed. Government ministers, officials, other sectors and NGOs at the meeting endorsed this as a key evidence-based. Now, in one week, all that has dissolved.

It’s really very simple. South Africa has the world’s largest HIV epidemic. One in five new HIV infections is sex work-related. Something must be done. Yet the Government has changed the final draft of the National Strategic Plan to remove any trace of a commitment to end the criminalisation of sex workers and their clients.

Our constitution is a contract between government and the people. Sex workers and NGOs are delivering their side of the bargain, combatting the epidemic and educating sex workers and clients. Yet government has no plan, and the police target our outreach teams and seize our condoms as evidence of sex work taking place – effectively punishing poor, mostly women, who are trying to survive and put food on the table. The government has failed us”.

How the NSP drafters have gone back on their word

Extract from Draft 3 of the NSP 2012-2016 (pg 58)

In addition, there is a large body of evidence showing the negative impact of the criminalisation of adult sex work on sex workers and their clients, their other sexual partners and public health more broadly. Much of this was already known in 2007, resulting in the previous NSP’s recommendation that sex work be decriminalised. The DOJ&CD, working together with the South African Law Review Commission (SALRC), must take urgent steps to finalise the legislative reform process that began with SALRC Project 107 (Adult Prostitution). This must result in (a) the completion of the SALRC report on Project 107 by no later than 30 September 2012, and (b) the tabling of a bill to decriminalise adult sex work by no later than 15 December 2012. Thereafter, SANAC must closely monitor the law reform process in Parliament.

Extract from Final draft of the NSP 2012-2016 (pg 53)

In an attempt to address any barriers and shortcomings – legal, social or economic – that may exist and therefore could undermine the rights of individuals, reviews and assessments will be conducted over the five year lifespan of the NSP. In addition, audits of interventions related to HIV, STIs and TB by all stakeholders should be undertaken, using tools adopted by SANAC, to ensure that they comply with human rights. The results of such reviews and audits will inform the course of action to be recommended to all stakeholders as well as Cabinet for consideration.

... Decriminalization of sex work is a matter that has been a subject of debate and society should continue to deliberate on the matter until final resolution.

Contacts for media comments

Mickey Meji is available on 073 992 0478.

Sally Shackleton, Executive Director of SWEAT, is available on 082 330 4113

[Please find below a downloadable PDF version of the NSP on HIV, STIs, and TB 2012-2016, sourced from the SANAC website http://www.sanac.org.za/files/uploaded/NSPabf.pdf]

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